[MLS REF WATCH] Penalty kicks and ejections are usually the most contentious incidents of a competitive soccer match, and the first Ref Watch of 2010 takes a look at incidents from the first two weeks of play.
STAHL’S SENDING-OFF. Philadelphia head coach Peter Nowak traded barbs with Sounders midfielder Freddie Ljungberg after the Union lost its inaugural match, 2-0, to Seattle in the MLS opener March 25. Nowak claimed that a dive by Ljungberg produced a fraudulent caution to rookie defender Tony Stahl, making his MLS debut, and set the table for his dismissal.
Ljungberg went down in a tangle with David Myrie and Stahl midway through the first half by letting the ball run rather than playing it. Myrie dove into a tackle with both feet but appeared to miss Ljungberg, who went down as Stahl banged into him from behind. Referee Ricardo Salazar cautioned Stahl; a few days later, Nowak complained that Salazar had been fooled. Yet a player cautioned, rightly or wrongly, should tone down his play, and Stahl did just the opposite. With a late and clumsy challenge near the end of the first half he kneed Freddy Montero in the lower back, and he did it in the center circle, where everybody in the stadium or watching on television couldn’t fail to see the foul.
Like Ljungberg, Montero has been criticized for his flops, but on this occasion he’d been drilled. Despite Union protests, Salazar brought out the red card. He’d already cautioned defender Danny Califf for a crunching midfield challenge in the first minute but that didn’t deter the Union from getting in its shots.
After the match, the Union released Myrie, who hadn't learned from his narrow escape, if indeed Salazar had erred. Badly scorched several times by Sounders winger Steve Zakuani, Myrie picked up a yellow card by felling him with a body block in the second half. While Nowak has a point in regards to Ljungberg and Montero hitting the ground too often and too easily, there’s nothing easy about officiating a game played on slick turf, in the rain, with a raucous Sounders crowd roaring at every touch. The Union took a hard, physical approach right from the kickoff, so it can hardly whine about being punished for foul play.
DYNAMO DOUBLE. Houston beat Real Salt Lake, 2-1, in its home opener at Robertson Stadium last Thursday with a pair of Brad Davis penalty kicks awarded for Jamison Olave fouls on Geoff Cameron and Luis Angel Landin, respectively, in the 52nd and 55th minutes. No one quibbled much about the first one, but RSL players swarmed around referee Jair Marrufo after he pointed to the spot a second time after Landin pulled the ball back as Olave dove in and hopped in the air before going down in a heap.
No doubt Olave and his teammates objected to the second penalty out of embarrassment as much as a sense of injustice; a team that prides itself on defense doesn’t expect to give away a pair of penalty kicks in the same game, never mind two inside of three minutes. Yet in attempting his tackle, Olave clearly stapled Landin on the ankle without the merest touch on the ball.
(There was a lot more contact in that incident than there was Saturday, when Rapids defender Marvell Wynne appeared to lightly clip the foot of Patrick Nyarko, whose tumble to the ground yielded the penalty kick by which Brian McBride hit the equalizer in a 2-2 tie.)
If the Mexican striker did jump away from the contact and fall to the ground to earn the call, he also did it out of self-preservation. A leg that remains planted under such a challenge is ripe for injury; ankle and knee injuries are far more common in such situations than when the fouled player can jump. Olave missed the ball and got the ankle, and whether Landin could have regained his balance doesn’t change the fact he’d been tripped.